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E-Cigarettes: Expert Q&A With the CDC

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Another significant concern is the effect of nicotine on the developing adolescent brain, which will develop differently under the influence of nicotine than without it.

Q: What might FDA regulations look like?                         

A: I can’t comment because they’re a sister agency, but it’s in nobody’s interest to continue in the Wild West state we’re in, where they can be sold to anybody, including adolescents, in half the states. There are no required manufacturing standards and they can market them as if they were peanut butter or something. It doesn’t mean (e-cigarettes) will be treated just like cigarettes, because they’re not, but they’re a product that contains a psychoactive addictive ingredient.

Q: We know how many teens have tried e-cigarettes but not how many use them regularly. When will that data be collected?

A: We’ll ask that in the 2013 survey. [The number of teens using e-cigarettes] will be smaller, but it’s still not going to be inconsequential. It’ll be tens or hundreds of thousands of kids who’ve used them more than once in the last 30 days.

We’ve found from 20 years-plus experience that if a child or adolescent has used a cigarette in the last 30 days, that is very predictive of future cigarette use. We fear the same will hold true with e-cigarettes. Most of what we know of substance abuse patterns makes us worry this will turn out to be the case.

Q: Any new research on the effects of e-cigarettes?

A: I am not aware of any. It would be extremely difficult to do currently because ... in terms of long-term health effects, it takes decades to look at the effects we’re talking about. At one level we’re trying to get the question into the great national surveys so we’ll be able to make sense of this 10, 20 years from now. We have to rely on what we know of toxicology, that what comes out of e-cigarettes is less toxic, but it’s more toxic than breathing clean air. That’s our preferred modality for breathing.

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